World Mental Health Day at AAFSC

October 10, 2018

October 10th is World Mental Health Day, a day for mental health workers and those dealing with mental illness to discuss their experiences, breaking the stigma around mental illness, and more.

AAFSC recognizes the need for mental health support in the AMEMSA community and immigrant and refugee communities at large – often, recent immigrants have faced trauma at home and in their journey to the U.S. Recent changes to immigration policy can make the journey even more stressful – in only the past year, the Supreme Court upheld the Muslim Ban, the Trump administration announced a historic low in refugee resettlement – only 30,000 refugees will be admitted to the U.S. in 2019. During the early summer of 2018, Customs and Border Patrol separated around 2,500 families crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, and despite a judge’s order end the practice and reunite families by July, hundreds of children remain separated from their parents – some of whom have already been deported.

Even when all goes well, it is still extremely difficult to adapt to a new life in the U.S. – new immigrants face language barriers, difficulty navigating new and complex social service and healthcare networks, and, increasingly, hate and discrimination. In the 2018 study “Xenophobia, Islamophobia, And Anti-Semitism In NYC Leading Up To And Following The 2016 Presidential Election: A Report On Discrimination, Bias, And Acts Of Hate Experienced By Muslim, Arab, South Asian, Jewish, And Sikh New Yorkers,” 38.5% of respondents reported experiencing “verbal harassment, threats or taunting referring to race, ethnicity or religion.” 26 percent of people who reported being verbally harassed were at a greater risk of depression – and 36.7 percent of people who had experienced physical assault showed probable signs of depression.

In June 2018, AAFSC launched our Mental Health Initiative in partnership with Maimonides Hospital, New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, RAND Corporation, and UCLA. The program promotes wellness, early detection, access to mental health support and care, and effective interventions within immigrant and refugee communities. Non-traditional partners, including barbershop employees and faith-based organizations, are equally as important to the program as hospitals and clinicians in reducing stigma and increasing early detection and access to a support network. Additionally, AAFSC now has two on-site mental health clinicians to provide culturally and linguistically competent services to youth, adults, and staff.

Providing care that is both culturally and linguistically competent is vitally important at AAFSC – many of our clients come from traditional cultures where stigma is attached both to mental illness and to seeking help. Having staff from and embedded in communities allow us to reach those in need more effectively, and provides a safe and welcoming space for those who need it, and allows for comprehensive and judgement-free help.